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BM Williams, PJ Baker, E Thomas, G Wilson, J Judge and RW Yarnell
Agricultural landscapes have become increasingly intensively managed resulting in population declines across a broad range of taxa, including insectivores such as the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). Hedgehog declines have also been attributed to an increase in the abundance of badgers (Meles meles), an intra-guild predator. The status of hedgehogs across the rural landscape at large spatial scales is, however, unknown. In this study, we used footprint tracking tunnels to conduct the first national survey of rural hedgehog populations in England and Wales. Single and two-species occupancy modelling was used to quantify hedgehog occupancy in relation to habitat and predator covariates. Hedgehog occupancy was low (22% nationally), and significantly negatively related to badger sett density and positively related to the built environment. Hedgehogs were also absent from 71% of sites that had no badger setts, indicating that large areas of the rural landscape are not occupied by hedgehogs. Our results provide the first field based national survey of hedgehogs, providing a robust baseline for future monitoring. Furthermore, the combined effects of increasing badger abundance and intensive agriculture may have provided a perfect storm for hedgehogs in rural Britain, leading to worryingly low levels of occupancy over large spatial scales.
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